If you’re looking to buy an exceptional guitar that produces amazing sounds, without emptying your wallet, the Stratocaster is one of the best options to choose from. Some of the most famous musicians in every genre like Eric Clapton, Yngwie Malmsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and even Jimmy Hendrix have sought after this guitar.
But what’s the difference between the Fender Mexican and the American Stratocaster?
In short, main differences between a Fender Mexican and American Stratocaster are the price points, the builds, pickups, hardware, and the overall performance of the guitar.
In this comprehensive guide, I will break down all of the key differences between the two instruments and help you determine which guitar is right for you.
Where are Fender Stratocasters Made?
The Fender Mexican is manufactured specifically in the Fender factory of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. The U.S. fenders are manufactured in the Fender’s factory located in Corona, California. This is where the Fender standards are built to have incredible playability, tone, and quality.
The American Stratocaster is a beautifully made guitar crafted using alder or ash to make premium tonewoods by some of the best master craftsmen in the world. One of the reasons that the American is priced higher is the additional quality craftsmanship and cost of labor needed to be manufactured in America.
However, as a caveat, Fender did strategically build their factory in Mexico. About one in five people play guitar in Mexico. So unlike most factories, your guitar is likely handcrafted by an actual guitar player.
Differences Between Mexican and American Stratocasters
Currently, the Mexican Player Series Stratocasters are priced around $700, and the American Performer Stratocaster costs roughly $1,150. Also, the American Professional Strat runs about $1,450. Some Fender American made Stratocasters can cost $2,200 or more depending the configuration. Prices may fluctuate, but the Fender website usually has the most up to date information when it comes to pricing.
The Fender Stratocaster went from being seen as a factory gimmick to being the very definition of an electric guitar. In 1954, Leo Fender, a California inventor, his friends George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares set out to build a guitar to improve upon the wildly already successful Telecaster and Precision Bass. They attempted to build a guitar with improved playability and comfort, along with a more diverse tone.
The original Strat had an ash body with two or three pieces glued together. What made the Strat unique is their deep body shape contours because telecaster players complained that the hard edges made their bodies feel uncomfortable.
This contoured body made it easier to access the higher frets and rests more comfortably on the player’s body. They also added a middle single-coil pickup, which gave the Strat better tonal versatility than Telecaster’s two-pickup design.
The electronics in these two guitars are almost made identical. Both Potentiometers and bow are made in Taiwan, and the five-way switches are made in Mexico. The pickups are typically made in Mexico or Korea for the MiM and made in America for the American Stratocaster. Next, the pick cards are both stamped out of the American factory.
However, there are a few distinct differences when it comes to the bridge. The bridge for the Mexican Fender is made in Korea, and it’s not as robust because it is made out of a bit of Chinese pop-metal and steel. Also, the saddles are chrome dipped and not nickel-plated compared to the American. For the American Stratocaster, there’s a two-point system, an improvement over the five screws.
The American has a unique Bi-Flex Truss Rod. There’s a screw underneath the seventh fret, which anchors the truss rod. This allows the truss rod to push the neck in both directions, whereas the Mexicans have a traditional truss rod, where you can only push in one direction. Although it doesn’t make a significant difference, it is nice to have the Bi-flex to help utilize every option to make the next rod as straight as possible.
As a bonus, there’s a micro tilt in the neck, allowing you to change the angle of the guitar. It’s a small difference, but it does help improve the performance of the American Strat.
One of the significant differences between the Mexican and American Strat is the wood used for their bodies. The American one has a three-piece body made of ash while the Mexican is made with alder.
Ash is a very dense and robust hardwood that usually features a light color and straight grain. Sonically, it produces more treble and good sustain resulting in a brighter and more pronounced tone. Ash also produces a strong low, clear midrange and chiming highs. Overall, the wood accentuates greater harmonic content and lets higher overtones ring through.
Alder also produces a blanched tone and is very resonant with the upper mid-range with great sustain. Since this wood has a closed grain and closed ports, it is typically finished in solid colors.
In the end, both types of woods has it’s own unique styles and advantages. Aesthetically, ash looks better with transparent and natural finishes while alder’s tight grain isn’t as visible but finishes great with solid colors and is very consistent throughout.
Alder generates more presence with emphasized upper-mids, and is it a bit more punchier than ash. Ash has a much rounder and mellower tone with amazing chiming highs that aren’t too bright. It’s best to consider the type of tones you enjoy and decide on the type of wood that suits your taste.
One of the primary differences between the Mexican and American Stratocasters is the neck of the guitar. The Mexican has 21 frets, while the American has 22. Originally, Fenders only had 21, but in the ’80s, the shredders needed more fret, thus adding another fret. Additional room is needed to make room for the 22nd fret, so the neck board is inherently longer.
For the American, the bridge engages a vintage-style two-screw saddle, and the assembly rocks smoothly on the fulcrum points. Also, the pickup selector consists of the traditional 5-way type.
Paint (polyester vs. polyurethane)
There are differences in the paints of each guitar. The Mexican Fender is made from a polyester finish, and the American ones are a polyurethane finish. However, the finish doesn’t particularly mean that one finish is better than the other.
The polyester finish has a harder finish and gives it a more polished and shiny look, than the polyurethane finish. The polyester finish is even used on their high-end Jackson guitar, but it doesn’t look as accurate.
However, the polyurethane is lacquer, which brings in a bit of nostalgia to the instrument. The American strat is meant to feel like you’ve been playing the guitar for years. It’s more like a proud gift that you’re giving to your son or grandchildren.
Reasons to Choose a Mexican Fender Stratocaster
The Mexican Fender is for you if you’re someone who wants a budget-friendly electric guitar. For the untrained eye, it’s hard to tell the difference in the look and sound of guitars when put side by side. For the Player Series model, they cost about $700 but can easily be found for $300 to $500. The quality isn’t as good, but you should still last you a very long time.
It’s difficult to compare a Mexican Fender’s performance to the American Stratocaster that is priced $500 more. When comparing the Mim (made in Mexico) versions, to similar guitars in its price range such as the PRS, Schecter, ESP or Jackson, it’s more than comparable in sound and tonality.
You would think that a Mexican Stratocaster would sound significantly worse than an American Stratocaster considering it’s less than half the price right?
Wrong. If you listen to the tone comparisons between the two guitars in the video above, you’ll notice how similar they sound. There are some intricate differences in the brightness of the tones, but one doesn’t really sound “better” than the other. It’s just a matter of personal preference. Many players, including myself, actually prefer the sound of the Mexican Stratocaster.
The Fender Mexican Strat can produce sounds from gutsy alternative rock to witty jangled Beatle-esque rock and blues music. With the sixth string tuned to D, you can create a beautiful esoteric chord voicing.
The sound from the Mexican Fender is a lot more robust than we’ve anticipated due to its low-powered valve combo. This electric guitar won’t have the girth of the heavy bottom rhythm sounds.
I find that the neck position of the guitar produces amazing smoky electric blues tones, and when backed off, just a touch can accentuate a clean Frusciante moment.
Gigging and Live Performances
The Mexican Fender makes an excellent option for gigging and live performances. The sound isn’t all the way there than an American, but with new pickups and other mods, you can get to about 80-90% there. Best of all, most of the upgrades can be done under $300.
With a live audience, they won’t hear all of the intricacies in tone and tuning, so it’s fine to be a little off compared to recording in a studio track. As a guitar player, you also don’t need to worry about the guitar being picked up, damaged, stolen as you would with a more expensive instrument.
If you’re performing in a live venue, I guarantee that not one person will be able to distinguish the difference between a Mexican Strat and an American Strat in terms of look or sound.
As a result, many people prefer to gig with their Mexican Stratocasters because it’s not nearly as big of a deal if it gets damaged since it costs so much less. If you have an American Stratocaster that costs over $2,000, why risk ruining it if no one will be able to tell the difference anyways?
Modding and Upgrades
One reason to consider the Mexican Fender is the convenience of simply modding and upgrading your guitar. Although the vintage American fenders tend to have a superior sound, sometimes the cost may not justify the additional benefits. You can replace a few materials to change the tone of your guitar instantly.
For instance, replacing the standard die-cast saddles with sheet metal ones will give your Mexican State more of a vintage tone. Other great options are stainless steel and brass straddles.
Also, you can use various tuners to adjust your primary tone. The heavier tuners provide a more sustained and stronger primary, while the old Kuson tuners give a transparent and open tone with a faster attack.
With the MiM, you can even do away with the single-coil strat pickups. Simple install new pickups such as a reverse-would or reverse-polarity middle up. One added benefit is that you cancel the normal 60-cycle hum that plagues the single coils, yet still receive the rewards that a traditional strat tone has.
Also, consider changing the nut material because it makes a significant sonic difference. Most of these guitars come with a plastic string nut that ends up insulating the guitar from string vibration, which negatively impacts the sustain and tone.
One alternative is using a bone nut because it is very hard and durable. And the bone nut produces a much sweeter tone than metal. In addition, have the tremolo blocked, so it doesn’t move. This will help with tune stability.
You Don’t Want to Keep it Forever
For those who are relatively new or even intermediate guitar players, the Mexican Fender would be a great option. You can easily purchase a used Mexican strat for $300 and have it professionally set-up. Since you can always mod or upgrade the parts, you wouldn’t need an American. You can always resell the Mexican strat for similar value and purchase the American later when the time is right.
Reasons to Choose an American Stratocaster
For being a guitarist, being a part of the Fender American Stratocaster legacy is a big deal. Some of the greatest guitarists have played this instrument like Hendrix, Blackmore, Malmsteen, Gilmore, Beck, and many others. Fender tends to put their high quality of craftsmanship when it comes to their American made fenders. This guitar has been a tradition for over half a century and will be a long-standing tradition for years to come.
One of the greatest advantages to the American Stratocaster is that it can play any genre such as blues, country, EDM, funk, metal, alternative rock, and everything in between. Sonically, the Americans can do it all.
The professional sounds fantastic unplugged. It has an innate tone that is airy and bright with a generous sustain and attractively hollow acoustic-like resonance. The entire instrument just hums when you strum, mostly thanks to it’s expertly carved and seated bone nut. Also, the tone pots are pleasantly voiced too. As a player, you can get more than a decent traditional jazz tone by rolling them back.
Overall the American Strat delivers incredible plugged in. With every pickup position, tones ring and chime with a great sustain and snappy-crisp attack. The American has a basic tonal balance and a sense of top-end headroom. The player can dig in hard for aggressively bright tones that still sound consistent and listenable.
The volume pot in the American is wired using the popular treble bleed bypass mod. This means that tones lose no treble when lowering the volume knob.
For guitar traditionalists, you’ll relish its vintage-approved tones. The American has a fine built quality, richly nuanced tones, and zingy resonance to it.
When it comes to the American’s playability, it does provide more distinct note separations and a nice chimy high that the Mexican strat doesn’t have. The American Strat’s single coils sparkle more crisply with much more definition than the Mexican Fender. Even with its fullest chords, there are clear note separations.
From a practical standpoint, the tuners on the Americans are more staggered, which means the string posts get increasingly shorter towards the high E string. This angle suits the players more optimally and, as a result, helps to remove the fret buzz at lower string heights. Not to mention, the American tuners are incredibly stable and never goes out of tune compared to the Mexican, where you’ll have to fine-tune it.
And having the 22nd fret is a nice bonus to play those squealing high notes that we all love. The frets are narrow and taller to make the bender much more easier for the player.
You can’t expect the guitar to increase in value, especially if it’s more of a modern guitar. You may be able to resell for greater value if it’s an older guitar made in the ’50s to ’70s. The good news is the American Stratocaster does hold it’s value pretty well, where you may only lose about 15% in total value if in good condition. But there is potential to lose about 50% of its total value when trying to resell.
For people looking to get the most bang for your buck, it’ll be better to buy a used guitar, since the buyer had already taken all of the depreciation. So if you’re looking for these premium American Stratocasters, but aren’t willing to fork over the grand and change for them, then I suggest looking at the resale market for them, which is different from the collectibles market.
You Intend to Keep it Forever
The truth is the American Stratocaster is built for nostalgia and made to be a vintage. It’s a piece of history, which is why the price difference is such a big gap. As a consumer, you’re paying for this vintage guitar. It’s similar to collecting any type of product like a vintage t-shirt or video game.
If you intend to keep your guitar for a long time, this is the one to keep. Some of the most iconic musicians across many industries have played the Stratocaster. The rock legends include Jimmy Hendrix, Ronny Wood of The Rolling Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughan, a blues guitarist, John Lennon from the Beatles, and even Buddy Holly, who was deemed “the first strat hero.”
How Much Does a Fender Stratocaster Cost?
While most Fender Stratocasters hold a high standard of quality for component parts, and finish, some models will include more advanced features that increases the cost.
For example, you can get the Standard Stratocaster which is Fender’s entry level Strat for under $600. On the high end of the spectrum, the American Vintage ‘65 Stratocaster will cost you $2,350 since it’s an original-era model made with an American Vintrage Gray-Bottom single-coil pickups to flash coat a lacquer finish.
Other features that may raise the cost of the Strat are rosewood fingerboards, or pop-in tremolo arm and locking tuning pegs.
American Stratocaster Vs. Mexican Stratocaster: Which is Better?
The American Stratocaster has a bunch of additional features giving the player the ability to improve their performance. Also, hardware differences such as the rounded fretboard edges, polished frets, and other features that make it feel more high end. The American overall has better performance and playability. If you enjoy the vintage tones, then the American provides just that.
Do American Stratocasters Sound Better Than Mexican Stratocasters?
For most players, this is what the decision boils down to. To a beginner’s ear, it may be difficult to tell the difference. The American Stratocasters seems to have a crispier sound with more sharpness and definition than the even the best of the made in Mexico ones.
As a player, you’ll experience a more distinct clear note separation, even on the fullest chords. These sounds are clear without blurring up as you might pile on the gain or distortion.
With the American Stratocaster, you have an additional fret to work with compared to the Mexican; 22 frets rather than 21 frets. Although it may seem like a meager difference, this gives American Stratocaster the edge when it comes to playing those high pitched, climatic squeaky notes that are a roaring crowd favorite. So having that 22nd fret is a sweet bonus to have, especially with you during live performances.
Which Fender Stratocaster is Right for You?
If you’re an extreme guitar enthusiast and someone who loves the premium Fender gives you, such as the quality of wood, slightly clearing, and distinct sounds, you’ll love the American Stratocaster. There’s no doubt that the American has a better appeal than the Mexican, but it doesn’t mean that the jump in price is justified. The American Strat is more geared towards professional musicians, strat enthusiasts, and veteran guitarists.
You should keep in mind that although there are a few tweaks and slightly better performance, both the Mexican and American have interchangeable parts. This means you can, in theory, change up the parts on the Mexican Fender to suit a more premium style.
As guitarists, the truth is that we want the feeling of nostalgia and playing our guitar precisely like many of the famous rock musicians have. This appeal, similar to how athletes mimic their favorite players, is what edges the American Strat ahead.
For the guitar players that are willing to pay the $1000 to $1,500 that it costs and want a piece of history, you should buy the American Stratocaster.
If you want a solid guitar with excellent sound and performance, without the need to pay an extra $500-$800, the Mexican will get the job done. You can even change up the parts and buy them separately. Doing so will still add up to be cheaper than the American Strat. In the end, it comes down to whether or not the additional 10-20% substance is worth the extra cost.
The Stratocaster is one of the most beloved and iconic guitars out there. The topic of Mexican and American strat will always be a hot topic. I hope this guide is helpful in your quest to purchase a Stratocaster. Be sure to weigh the differences between the two and choose the guitar that best suits you.